OPINION1 April 2003

Do you really like who you are?

Marc Brenner’s editorial

Carnage. It’s the only word I can use. I fully expected the annual research conference to be an oasis of calm debate. Within an hour of my arrival, voices were raised and I could hear the unmistakable sound of researchers shooting themselves in the foot. A seasoned journalist put his hand on my shoulder and whispered, ‘Pity them not, it’s always the way.’

In a recent ‘Are We Happy With Who We Are?’ MRS survey, a great proportion of market researchers said they are embarrassed and uncomfortable with being referred to as ‘market researchers.’

They feel that the term has, in some way, become devalued. A day later a possible alternative job title was floated; Change Agents. At the sound of these two words, hearts sank. When delegates were asked ‘Are We Happy With What We Do?’, it seems that researchers feel that the provision of market research intelligence is no longer enough. At another paper it was recommended that the industry needs to provide ‘change-centric solutions.’ Someone had consulted the Tom Peters’ Bumper Book of Jargon for that one. Navels were picked at. Navels were gazed at. I’m new to this game but, this seems to be an industry adept at giving itself a kicking.

Self-examination is no bad thing. Through self-examination, things improve. However, when you start to analyse clients and clients’ needs, things improve more. RBA’s Paul Vittles went way, way off message and began a rant that drew the biggest round of applause I heard all conference. He challenged conference to put up or shut up. He said, “be proud of who you are and be proud of what you do. If you don’t like the business, then get out and look for another career.” He gave passionate examples of how research changes things for the better, without the need of jargon, or of cosmetic makeovers. Never before has the ‘meat and two veg’ defence sounded so appetising.

It’s all very well extolling the virtues of research to researchers – but where were the clients? There was a good showing from the research buyers this year and these are the people this industry needs to reach. Those clients that did speak at conference seemed blissfully unaware of any problems within the MR industry. They were clear about the value of research and the way in which their products and services have benefited from engagements. So, why does the industry cut itself up about what it does?

Two people sat through most of the self-flagellation in a state of some bemusement. Davina O’Donoghue and Ben Tuff, the winners of Research’s Talent Magnet award, have been chosen to go out into the industry and appeal to market-researchers to be.

We’ve charged them with communicating their passion and enthusiasm to graduates in an attempt to draw the best young minds in the country to this industry. Our winners are proud to be researchers; professionals who excel at innovative ideas.

For the most part, the conference delivered on the promise of thought leadership of the highest order. When we take our eyes off our customers and prefer to question our worth and, indeed, our purpose – we might as well all go home. Our customers want our expertise and our skills, not our angst.

Marc Brenner

April | 2003